News of huge sums of money to be paid to National Assembly members as wardrobe allowance has thrown up questions seeking answers, OKECHUKWU JOMBO writes that there’s more to it.
Nigerians are still under shock with news that the newly sworn in members of the National Assembly will smile home with a whooping N8.64 billion as wardrobe allowance next week even if it is true or not.
They cannot understand why a few people can have all these largess while majority of them are dying in penury. As if that is not enough the sum is aside other allowances such as furniture, housing and vehicle, which the lawmakers are entitled to.
To make matters worse the management of the National Assembly is currently allocating offices to the 469 federal lawmakers in both chambers ahead of their resumption on June 23 from the two-week recess that they embarked on June 10. These offices will have the trappings of luxury which the same people will enjoy.
Some of them went crazy with the breakdown of the alleged N8.64 billion wardrobe allowance which translates to N17.5 million for each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives and N21.5 million for each of the 109 senators and took placards to the National Assembly complex to demonstrate their unhappiness.
To them it is sacrilegious and culprits should face death sentence for the crime.
Be that as it may, a critical look at the report which is generating controversy shows that while the wardrobe allowance, just like the furniture and vehicle allowances, will cover the entire four-year tenure of the 469 federal lawmakers, their housing allowances are paid on a yearly basis.
Another angle to it is that based on an assumed approval of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, the housing allowance for political office holders will be usually 200 per cent of their annual salaries, the furniture allowance is 300 per cent of annual salaries, while a motor vehicle loan is pegged at 400 per cent of their annual salaries.
Accordingly, each of the 107 senators besides the Senate President and his deputy, will be paid N4, 052,800 as housing allowance if it is true.
This sum will be paid to them every year, translating to N433, 649,600 as housing allowance to be paid to the Senate annually, while the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President will be provided accommodation by the federal government.
On the other hand, each member of the House of Representatives will be paid N3, 970,425 as housing allowance upon assumption of office.
This implies that the 358 representatives aside the Speaker and Deputy Speaker will collect a total of N1, 421,412,150 as housing allowance. Like that of the Senate, the speaker and deputy speaker will be given accommodation by the federal government.
Following the monetisation of entitlements of public officials undertaken by the OlusegunObasanjo administration, the lawmakers are said to have lost the right to occupy houses built and maintained by the government.
Hence, the federal government sold the houses previously occupied by the lawmakers to them.
Since the principal officers of the Sixth National Assembly benefited from the sale of the houses, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA is currently building new ones for the four presiding officers of both chambers.
On the furniture allowance, each of the senators will take away N6, 079,200 from the budget of the National Assembly, while the furniture for both the Senate president and his deputy will be provided by the government.
The total sum to be paid to the 107 senators as furniture allowance will be N650, 474,400.
In the House of Representatives, each member will be paid N5, 955,637.50 as furniture allowance.
This means that the 358 members will collect a total of N2, 132,118,225 for furniture.
On the vehicle loan, each of the senators is entitled to N8,105,600, while each House member is entitled to N7,940,850.50, meaning that the 107 senators will collectively take N867,299,200 as vehicle loans while the 358 House members will get N2,842,824,479 for their vehicles.
These earnings when juxtaposed with reality can be said to be criminal if they are factual, especially now that the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, has denied it.
He however revealed plans by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal commission to cut salaries and allowances of federal lawmakers.
Saraki who stated this on his Twitter handle after meeting with the RMAFC boss, said the annual wardrobe allowance for each senator is N506, 600 per annual and not what has been reported earlier.
He said that fixing the allowances of the lawmakers is the sole responsibility of RMAFC.
He said the Commission will publish details of lawmakers allowance on its website.
Saraki said: “RMAFC was in my office to clarify, wardrobe allowance is N506,600 per senator and not N21.5 million annually.
“I have just been informed that RMAFC will be publishing details of allowance on their website.
“With the current challenge we are facing as a nation, RMAFC will be reviewing allowance to reflect the current economic trend.
“Fixing remuneration is sole responsibility of RMAFC.”
Saraki, assured Nigerians that the 8th Senate will be people-centred, saying the Senate will be a place where interest and welfare of average Nigerians will be paramount.
According to him “As duly elected representatives of the people, we will work closely with every stakeholder in our onerous task of building a prosperous, secured and egalitarian society where the dividend of democracy will be felt by the people.”
Speaking while addressing members of Civil Society Groups, who paid him a courtesy visit in his office in Abuja, he reassured Nigerians that the Senate is ready to work harmoniously with the groups, adding that their engagement will fast track the developmental goals of this administration.
He urged the groups to be more proactive and constructive in their approach to issues.
He said, “I recognise the importance of the Civil Society Organisation in our nascent democracy.
“You have done creditably well so far.
“On our parts as legislators, we will be open, transparent and accept to work together as a team in order to transform our abundant resources to the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Senator Saraki assured Nigerians that the Senate under his leadership will be steadfast and improve in our oversight functions, adding: “The budget processes will be transparent, we will continue to prevent revenue leakages and enact laws that are relevant to the welfare of the people.”
Some of the Senators like Senators Dino Melaye and Ben Bruce Murray have already exonerated themselves saying they will not be part of the largess if it is true.
The question is who is telling the truth between the actors, is it RMAFC or the journalist that broke the story? Only time will tell!